We were at the Majestic Bus Station, Bangalore at around 9.30 p.m. but because of heavy rush all busses going to Mangalore routes were already full. Finally we found one private operator selling cabin seats to Mangalore. We still imagined that we would have decent, well obviously not comfortable, seats for us but when we boarded the bus, every square inch space of the bus was already sold. I guess he had literally crammed fifty people inside. Finally at 11.00 pm our bus left for Mangalore.
Around 2.00 a.m. we reached Kamat Uphar restaurant on the Mangalore Highway NH-48. The place resembled like huge bus terminal. There were more than 20 buses parked. Sakleshpur was just another 80kms and with no proper place to sit in the cabin, sleep was out of question. At 4.00 am, we had already crossed little more than 10kms after Sakleshpur; we reached our destination, the 234KM marker on the highway. The place is a small village called Donigal. After crossing few tea shops which are open 24x7, and located at 227KM marker, there is small bridge. You need to get down after this bridge. On your left hand, there will be a house, and on it’s diagonally opposite direction a small road climbing uphill will lead to the Donigal Station.
'Green Route' is the most picturesque trek route in the Western Ghats in Karnataka. This stretch, around 50 km, between Donigal and Subramanya stations on Bangalore-Mangalore railway route is famous for lush greenary, beautiful landscapes, small river streams, tunnels and bridges. The trek starts at Donigal and the destination could be any of Edakumeri (Yedakumeri)(17kms), Shirabagelu(28kms), Gundya or Subramanya (50-52km) depending upon ones stamina. The most famous stretch is between Donigal to Edakumeri.
Donigal station was still under construction; we rolled newspapers and slept for good 2 hours. At 6am we brushed, had breakfast and started our railway trek from the Donigal station. The Railway track passes through the Western Ghats and connects Hassan and Mangalore. There used to be trains on this stretch, but because of stiff resistance from the private bus operators and lack of broad gauge, the railways closed this section and since then this section has been trekker’s paradise. The conversion of narrow gauge to broad gauge is almost complete, and with railways to start within two months, sadly this trek route will soon come to an end. The distance markers on the railway track at the Donigal station reads 49Km, which is actually the distance from Hassan. Yedakumeri is the next station after Donigal at 67Kms, which meant we had good 18Kms to cover on Saturday.
When we were traveling through the ghats during night, it was evident that visibility was going to be poor; the high beam of the bus was barely enough to light 10 meters of the road ahead; the morning was also misty, but by 7.00 am sun had come out and visibility had improved. Fortunately through out the day, the weather was good; clear and sunny, not very hot. After walking around couple of kilometers we came across our first railway bridge. Though the bridge is only 50 meters long, its mere look itself excited us. Railway bridges are not like normal bridges, it only has sleepers spaced around 1feet to walk over. Not that you would fall off easily, but lack of terra firma scared me initially. By the time I had crossed half the bridge the fear had gone away. The coffee plantation on the side and small river stream visible through sleepers, flowing directly below was a wonderful sight. Wondered during the monsoons, it would truly be an amazing sight. The cameras had came out by now and we took lot of snaps on the bridge; the first bridge always has some significance. It is where you get a glimpse of what you are going to see ahead.
As we move forward, the forest grows, and the well-maintained coffee plantation thins. Their place is now taken by forest, valley, gorges with river streams flowing in between hills and frequent tunnels and bridges. The trek is simple in a way that you do not need to climb up or down this hilly terrain, the tunnels and bridges are there to keep railway track straight as possible.
Walking almost 3kms after crossing the first bridge, we came across the first tunnel. The tunnel is pretty straight and illuminated. There is a small opening inside the tunnel on the right hand side. A deep valley and water-fall outside greeted us, though we never ventured near water-fall, we spent some time relaxing at the place and enjoying the beauty. The second tunnel is almost back-to-back the first tunnel; hardly few meters away.
After this tunnels and bridges became frequent. Till Km58 marker there was no problem. Somewhere here we came across longest tunnel so far 254Meters. It was slightly a curved tunnel so the other end was not visible from the entrance, there was dim light inside but not enough. It is here I realized that my energizer pencil torch is not enough to light inside darker tunnels. There were three to four tunnels, I guess, over 400 meters, and they were completely dark inside. Even after spending five minutes inside, out eyes did not get accustomed to the darkness. It was pitch black. We collective light from three torches kept us going through these tunnels. Next time I better carry a powerful torch while trekking on railway tracks with tunnels. There are bats hanging inside these bats, better be careful not to upset them.
There were two bridges ~150 meters long. By far these were the longest we had crossed and the terra-firma beneath them was deepest as well. The view of sheer height between two sleepers while crossing was enough to ignite jitters; but it also presented the breath-taking view. We spend some time on these bridges and took few snaps as well.
There were in all 17 tunnels ranging from 50 meters to 572 meters and 12 bridges between the stations Donigal to Yedakumeri.
We reached Yedakumeri at 4.00 pm, covering 16km on foot and ~2km on the rail inspection trolley with few long breaks alongside river streams in between. We had planned to stay overnight at the Yedakumeri station. I dozed off to half hour sleep. When I woke up we saw three Diesel Railway engines coming towards Yedakumeri station, we asked whether they could take us back to Sakleshpur which they gladly accepted. My long standing dream of traveling in a railway engine just got completed. They asked us to board the last engine. During return journey we got to saw the nature around again, especially while crossing bridges on foot where we had little chance to look around except concentrate on sleepers and glimpses of the depth beneath. The railway driver panel is fairly simple. He has one lever to accelerate and brake. The driver gets side view of the track ahead. From Sakleshpur we jumped into the bus to Hassan from there to Bangalore and we were back in Bangalore by Saturday mid-night.
Nevertheless the trek was fabulous. The railway drivers told us that the section between Yedakumeri to Shiribagilu is the best for trekking. I am soon planning to cover remaining 25 odd km of the trek, before this section is again dominated by western railways.
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